While Gordon Elliott’s professional ban might give closure to the affair, it doesn’t adequately answer the obvious question – how did he end up sitting on the dead horse and appear smiling at a camera?
In the age of social media, it’s the type of action which seems beyond belief. With over 83,000 followers on Twitter, Elliott is clearly aware of social media. He has tweeted just under 5,000 times, yet one tweet about him has brought him close to professional ruin.
There is no question that the image is shocking. Sitting astride Morgan, a dead horse owned by Michael O’Leary, Elliott is smiling and giving either a peace sign or gesturing ‘two minutes’ to another person.
It’s also an indefensible image which has unleashed the full spectrum of emotion. It’s a PR disaster for Irish racing, grist to the mill for those vehemently opposed to horse racing, and perfect for a trial by social media.
As Elliot has an impeccable record as a horse trainer, this may be a Zinedine Zidane moment. Bizarrely, the French footballer headbutted an Italian defender in the 2006 World Cup in a strange and violent outburst.
Elliott said that he took a call and unthinkingly sat on the dead horse. Yet there is a sense of gallows humour in the photograph. That Elliott appeared to be happy having his picture taken, and since 2019, didn’t think that it might surface on social media, shows an attitude towards the dead animal that is at the same time, utterly unprofessional but also completely at ease around dead animals.
Anatomy students are famous for their pranks on dead bodies. Perhaps this was an in-joke, a bit of ‘craic’ that cannot be explained out of context.
Yet whatever it was, that one photograph will define his public image for the rest of his professional life.